September is fast approaching, which means BIMM Institute Berlin’s Freshers’ Week is just around the corner! It’s time to plan for your first few weeks in the German capital. BIMM Institute Berlin student Louise Vangilbergen has written a handy guide for exploring this city’s best bits for new students. Check it out.
What to do first?
Unpack, settle down, take a breath, and maybe even acquaint yourself with a few films or television programmes that are based/filmed in Berlin. For films, I’d recommend:
- Lola Rennt, directed by Tom Tykwer (1998,
- Oh Boy! by Jan Ole Gerster (2012)
- Russian Disco, based on the book by Wladimir Kaminer and directed by Olivier Ziegenbalg (2012)
- Victoria, directed by Sebastian Schipper (2015)
- Captain America: Civil War (yes!)
- The Hunger Games
- Berlin Calling
- Plus the TV show of 2021: The Queen’s Gambit
Though don’t worry – getting through them all might take the entire three years of your time at BIMM.
In the meantime, get a bike or a public transport ticket and ride. Berlin is big, and it is customary to spend 30 to 40 minutes on public transport between destinations. It is eight times bigger than metropolitan Paris, and using the subway (U-Bahn and S-Bahn) is part of the daily life of a Berliner. This is the city that’s home to one of the best underground networks in Europe.
History and ‘Bezirke’ of the City
Berlin has a very rich history and, as you will remember from your history lessons, it was divided in two from 1961 until 1989. Apart from the visual differences in architecture, there’s no real sense of division anymore for our generation.
Berlin has 12 districts, known as Bezirke, with each maintaining its own strong identity:
Friedrichshain, where BIMM Berlin is situated, is the old workers’ area. Here, you can find independent clubs, bars, restaurants, shops, and tons of graffiti. The party never stops in Friedrichshain, with the worldwide nightlife keeping energetic punters satisfied from Friday to Monday morning!
This is where you can follow the Landwehr Canal and get a coffee at Plan Café before grabbing a beer from a ‘späti’ (off-licence) to watch the sunset on the Admiralbrücke with live music.
This has developed a sizeable multicultural atmosphere over the past few years. The comparatively low rent and 24-hour culture made it an attractive place for international students to move to. Now, it offers many bars and restaurants whilst retaining the Turkish-infused charm of previous years.
In Mitte, the old city centre, you can find the antiquity of the Brandenburger Tor, Unter der Linden, opera houses, and Museum Island, juxtaposed with the several modern offerings due to the many start-up tech companies and co-working spaces that dot the area.
- Prenzlauer Berg
This is a more family-oriented neighbourhood that offers bakeries and coffee places and a wide range of restaurants such as Knaan (hummus and shakshuka) and The Bird (steakhouse).
Situated out west, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is a combination of beautiful architecture and relatively quiet compared to its Eastern companions.
Wedding in the north offers a panoramic view of Berlin from the top of the remains of a World War II anti-craft gun blockhouse tower, the Flak Tower III Humboldthain.
The other Bezirke are:
- Lichtenberg (former East Berlin with a strong Eastern heritage)
- Marzahn-Hellersdorf (also former Eastern)
- Steglitz-Zehlendorf (old West Berlin)
- Spandau (where Spandau Zitadelle is located and a lot of great concerts are held)
- Treptow-Köpenick –a very family-oriented space that includes Treptower Park, a must-see.
Put on Your Party Pants
From outdoor music to club nights, Berlin has you covered. It might be famous for techno and minimalism, but it caters for many different genres.
Cassiopeia, located next to BIMM, offers a rock/punk aesthetic, Prachtwerk, a more acoustic vibe, and then there’s B-Flat for our jazz fans. Schokoladen (Mitte) and Clash (Mehringdamm) are rock-based venues, whilst Repeat is a bar with a DJ set that vary dependant on the night.
Bohnengold, located a few steps away from Kottbusser Tor, is also a bar that offers mixed DJ sets and party nights. The Berliner Philharmonic is not only an example of beautiful architecture from the 60s, but is also the home of one of the world’s best orchestras almost every night for a minuscule price. If you’re looking to go big or go home, there’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, Waldbühne, Olympiastadion (where the festival Lollapalooza takes place) and more.
Not only are we spoilt with a plethora of venues that offer a wide range of music, but music festivals are also common: The Irish Summer Concerts, Berlin is not AM RING, Pop-Kultur, Classic Open Air, Jazzfest Berlin, MaerzMusik and more – with my personal favourite being the Karneval der Kulturen. It’s a multicultural festival in Kreuzberg and celebrates cultures from around the world with music, theatre, food and even more food. It is celebrated around the weekend of Pentecost and lasts for four days.
Get Some Culture In
Berlin offers endless culture. The Museum Island in the centre of town is home to five museums, each of them offering amazing permanent exhibitions where you can immerse yourself for hours in art and history. The district of Friedrichshain offers several cultural spaces, including the famous graffiti-laden RAW. The Tränenpalast at the subway station Friedrischstrasse is free to enter and is an old border point that shows the daily life of Germans when they were still divided.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (also known as the Holocaust Memorial) is located next to the Brandenburger Gate in Mitte. All over Berlin, you will see golden plates on the floor called Stolpersteine (stumbling stones). These are a memorial to the Jewish population of Berlin who lived in those houses before the Holocaust.
Nothing to Wear?
Not to break with tradition, THE shopping street is the Kurfürstendamm, which houses everything from the top-end to more traditional high street shops, the bottom-end, and all typical exclusive luxury brands.
For more of an outdoor shopping experience, the area around Weinmeisterstrasse is the place to be, but every district has its own little independent shops. For rainy days, there are plenty of shopping emporia to choose from, such as the Mall of Berlin, KaDeWe, and Bikini House for an arty vibe. Avoid Alexanderplatz, as it’s mostly crowded and full of tourists.
Second-hand stores are located all over the city. The biggest one would be Humana, but there is also Pick’nWeight, ReSales and many small independent shops. And don’t forget the Sunday tradition of the ‘Flohmarkt’ (Flea Markets). Mauerpark is the biggest, and also offers weird karaoke, great food, and a mix of performers. Kreuzboerg and Nowkoelln are more affordable, and each ‘Kiez’ generally holds one on weekends.
Must-Sees in the City
Be sure to visit one of the city’s bunkers, as they offer tours in lots of different languages and it’s a great way to soak up some history. Visit Museum Island for the architecture, whilst on a rainy day, Pergamon Museum is a place to be.
Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport turned into a public park, is the perfect place to take the skates out. During summer, the lakes are our friends. When the temperature hits 30 degrees, a day spent at Schlachtensee, Wannsee, Tegeler See or even Grosser Muggelsee is the only way to celebrate. The lakes are clean, and many offer sand beaches.